Continuing our look at sites associated with the Burning of the Custom House, this time a few places involved in the lead up to the operation.
100 Seville Place
Seville Place runs southeast from the famous Five Lamps towards the Docklands north of the Liffey and passes under the railway from Connolly Station. Right beside the high railway bridge stands number 100.
No. 100 was owned or rented by the local GAA club St Laurence O’Toole’s who used it as their clubhouse and pipe band practice venue. It was also available to various organisations. One of them was the IRA. The premises acted at times as HQ for 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade and meeting place for E Coy from pre-Rising times to the War of Independence. Bill Stapleton says the house was also used as Squad HQ before they set up at Moreland’s in Abbey Street.
ASU No 4 member Joe McGuinness says the ASU was formed at St Laurence O’Toole’s Hall (100 Seville Place) in December 1920 when the first draft of selected men were assembled. The meeting was presided over by Oscar Traynor and Tom Ennis and the ASU O/C Paddy O’Flanagan was introduced.
During planning for the attack on the Custom House, 2nd Battalion Commandant Ennis hosted other senior officers, including Michael Collins, at many meetings in 100 Seville Place from early 1921. Some other dramatic events also took place there or thereabouts.
On 7 February 1921 the 2nd Battalion used 100 Seville Place as bait to lure crown forces into an ambush. Following the capture of a Dublin Castle tout who revealed his codes, a telephone tip-off about an important IRA meeting in no. 100 was made by Liam Tobin of GHQ to the Castle. In preparation, over 150 armed Volunteers (from B, C, D, E and F Coys) were deployed in the surrounding area, the rail yards and along the railway line. However the bait was not taken, the operation was called off and the men dispersed without incident. The British later captured a Battalion report to GHQ detailing the events.
Surprisingly, number 100 was apparently raided only three times although regularly watched by crown forces.
Harry Colley says it was invaded by Auxiliaries on the evening before Bloody Sunday in November 1920. The location had been intended for final instructions to be given to the hit teams to go into action the next morning. The briefings planned for there had to be shifted to Tara Hall (see below).
British records document two raids. On 23 February 1921 a strong force comprising six officers and 125 men of The Lancashire Fusiliers 1st Battalion broke into the empty building but found slim pickings. All they got were a scattered and small assortment of ammunition, a grenade, a bayonet, copies of a Dublin Brigade fund leaflet and some pipe band drums and uniforms. The raiders described the place as uninhabited and in disarray even before they broke doors and windows and tore up floorboards!
In a second visit on 24 March, this time by Auxies and military, a group of 7 young men were found in the building, one being armed with a loaded .45. Three among them claimed innocence. They said they had travelled up from the country and were on their way to the port to leave the country but were intercepted and held captive by the others. This story may sound hairy but was most probably correct. In 1920 the Dáil had issued a directive against unauthorised emigration of Irish males of military age, which fell to the Irish Republican Police to enforce. As a result, Volunteers Joseph Carroll, Joseph Morrissey, William Joseph Phillips and Michael White were tried by court martial and given jail sentences.
One man captured at the Custom House lived only a few doors from number 100. Ned Breslin gave his address as 104 Seville Place. Another IRA officer who lived in that same house was Kit O’Malley, Adjutant, ASU and later of Dublin Brigade. Many other participants in the Burning lived in the surrounding locality, which was E Coy home territory.
In the run-up to the Civil War, 100 Seville Place was HQ for 2nd Battalion, pro-Treaty IRA, mentioned in a proclamation from Beggars Bush dated 31 March 1922 signed by seven senior officers, 5 of them Custom House Men:
- Tom Ennis, O/C 2nd Eastern Division
- Jim Slattery, O/C 1st Dublin Brigade
- Frank Bolster, O/C 1st Battalion
- Tom Kilcoyne, O/C 2nd Battalion
- Sam McMahon, O/C 3rd Battalion
- Michael McEvoy, O/C 5th Battalion
- Niall McNeill, O/C 2nd Dublin Brigade
The building still exists though it is uninhabited and effectively derelict. There is no plaque or other indication to give the slightest hint of its former role in Irish history.
Little information is available about this building. It was located just off Seville Place on Upper Oriel Street in the shadow of Amiens Street (now Connolly) Railway Station.
In the early 1900s it was known as Irish National Foresters’ Hall (before they moved to 41 Parnell Square). Later it was called Railwayman’s Hall. It then appears to have become a community hall for residents of St Laurence O’Toole Parish. Mentions in old newspapers refer to social activities over the years such as dances, baby shows, jumble sales and so on.
In Tan war times Oriel Hall was used for meetings of trades union, sports clubs and other organisations. For example in 1920 the Strike Committee of railway and transport workers used the building during the Munitions Strike.
On the morning of the Burning, the hall was the intended location for briefing the participants and to park the lorry carrying incendiary material. However the IRA discovered that a large contingent of crown forces were in the Railway yards which overlooked the Hall. The venue was switched at late notice to Sean Connolly Hall, illustrating how good the Brigade’s organisation and communications were.
The old Oriel Hall building was demolished around the late 1980s/early 90s and replaced with housing which goes under the same name.
Sean Connolly Hall
Another building which is not well-known to say the least. It took this writer quite a while to track down just its general location.
But thanks to the late-lamented Irish Press it appears on a map with an article about the Custom House operation published in 1956.
[Updated and corrected text] Its location is confirmed on page 15 of the Witness Statement by Vinny Byrne where he refers to the Seán Connolly Sinn Féin Club at North Summer Street (off the North Circular Road).
The Club and Hall were named in memory of Captain Seán Connolly, Irish Citizen Army, the first of the 1916 ‘Rebels’ to die in action on the roof of City Hall, Easter Monday 24 April. He had formerly lived on Bella Street in the same locality (And, in an interesting link to the Custom House, his father Michael had been the Lock-keeper at the Docks, long filled-in, which were beside the building).
As stated, on 25 May 1921 the Hall was used as the back-up briefing centre for many of the men who were to undertake the Burning.
Hotel Plaza, 6 Gardiner’s Row
Unlikely as it may sound, from December 1920 Dublin Brigade HQ was based here. Despite being so close to the city centre its was never discovered by the crown forces.
At the time it was no longer a hotel but, being headquarters for several trades union, the number of people passing in and out regularly would not have aroused suspicion. The Brigade’s rooms were in an isolated part of the building not easily reached internally; and there was a hidden buzzer allowing the doorman to warn IRA occupants of dangerous callers. Many Brigade members would have been calling to the Plaza to see O/C Oscar Traynor (known as Mr Blake for correspondence) and his staff with messages and reports or to receive briefings and orders. One of them was Todd Andrews who recalled meeting Emmet Dalton, Director of Training, in his office there, “a miserable gloomy room”.
Dalton also features in another story from the Plaza, as told by Oscar Traynor. Himself, Kit O’Malley and Dalton were working there one night when the warning buzzer sounded. Crown forces were raiding the place. The officers hid their papers in a secret cupboard and waited in anticipation of the troops bursting in on them. However, nobody appeared, so Dalton suggested they brazenly walk out, rather than hanging around all night. The others agreed but on the way a soldier with rifle raised confronted them. Dalton, looking just like the BA officer he once was, had a quiet word with the man who grounded his rifle, smiled and almost saluted. He took the IRA men to his officer. Dalton strolled over to him and in a few moments they were chatting, joking and laughing. Dalton said to his companions in a commanding tone, “come along men, let’s go” and they proceeded safely home through the military cordon.
Ironically, the IRA were not the first military group to use the building. During WW1 the hotel had been commandeered by the British army who did not leave till the end of 1919. The following summer it re-opened as a licensed hotel and, that October, was bought in trust by a legal firm at 57 College Green. You’d wonder if their clients, the new owners, were the IRA?
But seriously, the purchasers were actually the Irish Engineering Industrial Union, so the address became known as Engineer’s Hall. Harry Colley, Brigade Adjutant says they obtained accommodation there through union official and 1916 man Mick Slater. As cover, the tenancy was held by a branch of the Irish Clerical Workers’ Union headed by then Brigade Quartermaster, Patrick McGurk (Links to trades union were critical to the IRA in Dublin and many Volunteers were union members).
The old hotel became Dublin Brigade HQ and ASU HQ (according to Joe McGuinness) until the Civil War. In addition to Brigade meetings, IRA GHQ often convened in the building. From early 1921 many discussions – and no doubt arguments – on the plan for the Burning took place there.
In early 1922, delegates to the IRA Convention were instructed to present their credentials at 6 Gardiner’s Row. On the outbreak of the Civil War, the anti-Treaty IRA continued to use it for a short time until activity by the National Army forced it to be abandoned. At that time and during the Plaza’s role as Brigade HQ the hall porter/caretaker was Volunteer Thomas Hannigan, 2nd Battalion (See pension application MSP34REF15588). It was he who had sounded the raid warning to Traynor, Dalton & O’Malley, as mentioned above.
According to Andy McDonnell, O/C 2nd Dublin Brigade, “[Hannigan] knew everyone and to strangers was a snooty trade union official”. As the Reader might guess from that complementary quip, on the 1922 split Hannigan and McDonnell sided with the Republicans.
Nowadays the building accommodates the Connect Trade Union and the street is named Gardiner Row. A plaque on the wall commemorates its key role for Dublin Brigade in War of Independence times.
Typographical Society Hall
35 Lower Gardiner Street was owned by the very strong and powerful printers’ union, the Dublin Typographical Provident Society. It is said there were more IRB members there than in any other single place and the union was full of advanced nationalists. Three of its members printed the 1916 Proclamation. And, for the Custom House operation, it was supposedly the Typographical Society who Tom Kilcoyne persuaded to ‘loan’ a large quantity of cotton waste to be used as incendiary material.
During the War of Independence the building had been Dublin Brigade HQ before it moved to the Hotel Plaza. A plaque inside commemorates that role:
“This room was the headquarters of the Dublin Brigade, Irish Republican Army, for a period during 1920-21. To honour the memory of all those members of the Dublin Typographical Provident Society who served Ireland during the long struggle for Independence this plaque is erected by the 150th Anniversary Commemorative Committee.”
Among key events which took place in the same room were a meeting of 1st Battalion to plan a rescue of their condemned comrade Kevin Barry (the attempt was, of course, sadly aborted); and the briefing led by Dick McKee for the major counter-intelligence action on Bloody Sunday 1920. McKee as Dublin Brigade O/C had set up HQ in Gardiner Street.
At that time No. 35 Lower Gardiner Street was linked by secret doorways which allowed Volunteers to exit from the front or back door of almost any other house in the terrace (David Taylor, Irish Times). But because of the level of activity the place came to the notice of the authorities and was under increasing suspicion. So it was thought essential to shift the Brigade offices elsewhere and that was arranged by the murdered Dick McKee’s replacement, Oscar Traynor (see Hotel Plaza above).
After the Republican Courts were set up in 1920, the Typographical Society premises was among the city locations where the new Irish Circuit Court sat. The building also continued to be used at times for smaller IRA units’ purposes.
One such occasion – and a special one – was in preparation for the Burning. No 35 was taken over again as a temporary Brigade HQ, conveniently close to the target. It was the venue for Paddy O’Daly’s briefing of some of the Squad and ASU Nos. 1 and 2 Sections the night before the Burning.
On the day of the attack Harry Colley reported his last minute recce of the Custom House back to Brigade O/C Traynor at the Typographical Society. Less than an hour later Colley was standing on the steps outside the building watching when the gunfire began.
Another man to avoid arrest at the Custom House, Vinny Byrne, says he returned to 35 Gardiner Street where he took away Tom Kehoe’s new bicycle left there before the job for a handy return trip home. But of course Kehoe didn’t make it home that day, he ended up in Arbour Hill.
Today the building retains its links to the historic typographical trade. It is headquarters of the Irish Print Group (part of SIPTU, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union).
42 North Great George’s Street
This held offices and a meeting hall off the north side of what was then Great Britain (now Parnell) Street.
A number of left wing groups, among them the James Connolly Labour College, the Socialist Party of Ireland and a few trade unions were based there. Sympathetic leaders of the Irish Women Workers’ Union facilitated its use by 2nd Battalion, all of whose Companies met there. They discontinued regular use of the place shortly after the Auxies arrived in Dublin and made several raids on the premises during 1920.
A few photos taken during one Auxy raid definitely fall into the “fake news” category. They were wrongly captioned in the British Daily Sketch under a sensational headline “IRA plans for spreading typhoid”, for propaganda purposes. Too many historians have lazily repeated the inaccuracies without question, variously labelling the location as the home of Professor Hayes of UCD, GAA HQ and the Sinn Féin Bank (Full credit for the truth to contributors here).
Jim Slattery said the Squad was formed at no. 42 on 30 July 1919.
According to Peadar O’Farrell, Battalion O/C Tom Ennis most likely briefed his men at no. 42 on the morning of the Burning. After the Truce in 1921 it was again used by 2nd Battalion. In addition it became the northside city venue for the Irish District or Parish Court, otherwise known as ‘Dáil’, ‘Sinn Féin’ or Republican Court (its southside equivalent was in 41 York Street). Interestingly, two of the justices who sat there at that time were female.
A further use around that time was an Irish White Cross work-room for 60 women and girls left unemployed because of the troubles.
Until recently the building was the MEC Hostel budget accommodation which, it appears, has closed down and the building may be up for sale.
17 Strand Street, Great
The address “was a large stores, with room for three or four motor cars, on the ground floor, with two large lofts overhead” says James Doyle, a 1916 veteran captured at the Burning. It was used as an arms dump and HQ by the Sections of the ASU who operated in the centre of the city. Doyle adds “The complete [Active Service] Unit met at 17 Strand Street on the morning of 25 May 1921 before moving off to the Burning of the Custom House.” (BMH.WS0127, page 15).
About a week later the place was raided by Auxies who found one ASU man, Mick Stephenson – and a Peter the Painter with 12 notches – on the premises (he ran his tailor’s business there). His story is told here.
The original building was located at the corner of of Great Stand Street and Swift’s Row. It has been replaced by an apartment block.
5 Blackhall Place
This address in Stoneybatter was called St. Colmcille Hall, after a branch of the Gaelic League who held Irish language classes and other functions there. Some rooms were rented to trade associations and unions, It was also a venue for entertainment such as céilí and stage plays.
In addition it acted as HQ for 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade and Cumann na mBan before and after the 1916 Rising. Frank Henderson says it may have hosted a convention of the Irish Volunteers in 1918.
During the Tan War the address was raided a number of times by the Auxiliaries and military. In late April 1921 it was repeatedly searched and thoroughly ransacked. Over 70 people were present on the the first occasion. Males and females were separated and the women minutely processed by female searchers before being released after Curfew. All the 50 men present were taken away to Arbour Hill Detention Barracks. Included was a group of five trade union officials who had been holding a meeting in the building that night.
Dublin Castle claimed “about 40 men of the Dublin Battalion [sic] I.R.A., including an adjutant and quartermaster, were arrested. Several revolvers were captured.” The union officials were subsequently released, while almost all the others were interned in Rath Camp, the Curragh. Many of them were indeed 1st Battalion members.
In recent years the block containing St Colmcille’s Hall has been extensively renovated. Two extra stories were added to no 5 and adjacent buildings, now part of Blackhall View apartments.
Just a few doors down the street is an interesting ghost mosaic sign on the former outlet of a well-known agricultural supplier, still in business in Co. Longford today. Not everything has disappeared over the past century.
Tara Hall Trade and Social Club stood at 15 Upper Gloucester (now Sean MacDermott) Street. It was used by locals and by various union organisations like the Tiler & Slaters. It came to be associated in particular with the Amalgamated Society of Operative House and Ship Painters and Decorators. Thankfully it was referred to simply as Painter’s Hall!
C Coys of 1st and 2nd Battalions held their parades and meetings at Tara Hall from 1917 on. In preparation for the Burning, the units’ men who were to take part met there to receive their orders and instructions on the night of 24 May 1921 and the morning of the attack.
The hall was among the Dublin buildings seized by anti-Treaty forces in the lead up to the the Battle of Dublin and Civil War and Cumann na mBan HQ was based there. During the Battle for Dublin it became a Red Cross Depot.
It was later used as a Ballroom but has since disappeared in residential re-development of the area.
Next time we will look at Findlater’s. A former Dublin landmark with its own interesting history and the place where the IRA commandeered a lorry for use at the Burning.
P.S. We are deliberately saving the Fire Stations for an expert guest writer. He knows who we mean and hopefully he is reading this and sharpening his pencil!